Four aquanauts began the 16th excursion of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project on Monday, June 11, at 11:04 am EDT (1504 GMT). The 12-day expedition will take place inside the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Reef Base.
The facility is submerged off Key Largo, Florida, at a depth of nearly 20 meters (62 feet). It is operated by the University of North Carolina–Wilmington's National Undersea Research Center (NURC) for NOAA. It has been in use for simulating otherworldly environments since 2001.
The current expedition features NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Timothy Peake, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui and Cornell University's Steven W. Squyres.
The last one is the Goldwin Smith professor of astronomy at the university, the chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, a former member of NEEMO 15, and the mission manager for the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission, which includes Spirit and Opportunity.
Aquanauts participating in NEEMO expeditions experience some of the same challenges that astronauts do in space. They are faced with many of the same maneuverability problems as their colleagues performing spacewalks outside the space station, so these missions help them prepare.
The goals of NEEMO 16 are to investigate a number of issues related to exploring asteroids, including communication delays, restraint and translation techniques, and optimum crew size. Under the 2010 Space Policy enacted by President Barack Obama, NASA needs to land on an asteroid by 2025.
The agency plans to do this by using the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Unlike the shuttles, which were very large, the Orion does not allow its occupants too much room to move.
needs to know how this will affect the crew, especially if it comes to using Orion to travel to Mars. The agency was instructed to land humans on the Red Planet by the early 2030s, and a return trip will last at least 18 months.
During this time, the six or seven astronauts that will make up the crew will have to live together in a crammed space, and somehow get along with each other. NASA wants to analyze the mental impact that such a trip will have on its personnel.